So comic con is over for another year! For those of us not able to be in San Diego due to the existence of that pesky ocean, sifting through all the news and announcements can be tough. Here are some things I have noticed.

- There were demos available for both Dragon Age II and some new Origins DLC. The former - like everything to do with the sequel - has caused much debate and nerdrage. While I've heard a couple of things I don't like the sound of, on the whole I am looking forward to the next installment. I'm itching to hear more about the DLC, which apparently contains an import function for the Warden.

- Not much Transformers news, as they were already at Botcon. I want Generations Red Alert the most.

- Hasbro's Marvel 3.75" line continues to look awesome into 2011. I'm most excited about the Jim Lee era Cyclops, even though I am going to end up with way too many Cyclops (Cyclopsi?). But as someone who got into X-Men through the nineties cartoon, that's always been the definitive Scott Summers look for me. I am also pleased to see the giant Sentinels in two different colour schemes! Still waiting impatiently for a bunch of characters, but I guess it will all come in time. (But where is Beast? And Professor X? And Scarlet Witch? And Doctor Strange? And ...)

- In other interesting news, Hasbro announced that the 6" Marvel Legends will be back in 2012. They botched the first wave badly when they took over the license (that Emma Frost sculpt was truly awful) but the figures have improved since then, so I look forward to this with cautious interest.

- With GI Joe, I was pleased to see some images from the new Renegades cartoon. Apparently Snake-Eyes has a motorcycle. Liking the character designs, but these panels never reveal the really important stuff, like: is there going to be Duke/Scarlett 'shipping in this like there was in Resolute? Because if so I will be seriously annoyed. And it's not because of my devotion to Scarlett/Snake-Eyes. Scarlett/Rip-Cord or anything else would be fine with me - I just really really don't like Duke and don't want him anywhere near my favourite lady Joe. Come to think of it Duke/Baroness like in the movie would be even worse. Eeeew.

- In other Renegades news, it still seems weird to me every time a new Doctor Mindbender shows up wearing a shirt.

- DC Universe Classics announced Wave 16, with a new spandex-clad Riddler the only figure I'm personally interested in. On the one hand, he's overly buff, but on the other, you can't really go wrong with question mark spandex. Also, I never did manage get around to buying the Wave 5 version on eBay. (The figures are only distributed locally in specialty shops most of the time, so no Walmart exclusives for us.) There will also be a giant box of Legion of Superheroes figures, which is great for people interested in those and for those of us who aren't. Not putting all those Legion guys into the regular line leaves more room for other things.

- Justice League Unlimited continues to have astonishing longevity for a show-related line whose show has been gone for years. (Details in that same link above.) Over a dozen new figures were announced, including Ted Kord! Some nice looking stuff there, and I'm thrilled that we're finally getting Toyman and Killer Frost.

- The big non-news was that they had nothing to announce about the Infinite Heroes line. I own a few of these, but I can't say I'm that disappointed. Compared to Hasbro's 3.75" lines, they are just ... not fun. Maybe they should put Infinite Heroes out of its misery and put the effort into a range that actually works.
A mere three weeks after E3, we get some video game news I actually care about! (All right, so I will eventually be getting a 3DS. Only because it has Nintendo Cats and Dogs and future Professor Layton games, though. I don't anticipate getting much use out of the 3D function.) BioWare have announced that Dragon Age 2 will be arriving in March 2011. To those who weren't hanging on the developers' every word before DAO was released, that must seem like a very short time since the first game. However, Origins was largely complete by February 2009, held back six months due to issues with the console port.

There isn't much solid information at the moment, but naturally fans are running around like headless chickens anyway. Of the things we do know for certain, I like some and don't like others. Let's analyse the press release a bit:

Experience the epic sequel to the 2009 Game of the Year from the critically acclaimed makers of Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2. You are one of the few who escaped the destruction of your home. Now, forced to fight for survival in an ever-changing world, you must gather the deadliest of allies, amass fame and fortune, and seal your place in history. This is the story of how the world changed forever. The legend of your Rise to Power begins now.

In DA2, multiple origin stories are gone, which is the thing I'm going to miss the most from the first game. You play as a human Blight refugee (surnamed Hawke) but at least you can still choose your gender and class. I can see why BioWare have gone the Mass Effect route here, since it's a lot easier to craft a story based on one background than it is to take account of six. I'm interested to see how this turns out even though I'm sad to see the origins go.

Key Features:

- Embark upon an all-new adventure that takes place across an entire decade and shapes itself around every decision you make.

This is an interesting statement that could mean a number of different things - maybe there's a prologue and the main game is set ten years later, or there are different chapters set in different time periods. That would make the story more linear, but it will be interesting to see how things play out on that time-scale. Will companions come and go during that time? Will you be able to form long-term romantic relationships? Have kids, even?

- Determine your rise to power from a destitute refugee to the revered champion of the land.

I'm thinking we may get more of the management stuff from Awakening in the sequel, which would be fine by me. I thought it was perfunctory there, but given more time and development it could be interesting. Kirkwall (the place Hawke ends up Champion of) is the Free Marches, so you may end up in charge of an entire city-state.

- Think like a general and fight like a Spartan with dynamic new combat mechanics that put you right in the heart of battle whether you are a mage, rogue, or warrior.

People are waving their arms about how this means we're getting dumbed down hack-'n-slash combat, but that phrase could mean anything. I don't want Dragon Age turning into Diablo either, but I'm not going to worry until we get some actual information about how combat will work.

In other news, Hawke seems to be holding some kind of pole arm on the provisional box art. I can has spears?

- Go deeper into the world of Dragon Age with an entirely new cinematic experience that grabs hold of you from the beginning and never lets go.

- Discover a whole realm rendered in stunning detail with updated graphics and a new visual style.

That's some standard marketing speak for 'we have new zones!'

All in all, the only thing I'm less than happy with so far is the loss of origin stories, and the game may provided sufficient trade-offs for their absence. I'm actually glad that the protagonist from the first game is not graduating to the sequel. While I would appreciate another DLC/expansion to wrap up the dangling plot from Awakening, after that I'll be ready to put my Wardens to bed. I enjoyed playing them, but it was Thedas that I really fell in love with during Origins, and I want to see it from more than one angle.

I am already trying to work out what to name my first Hawke. (And no, Mike is not my preferred option.)
I wasn't expecting to post another review so soon, but I got a nice surprise when I walked into Myer yesterday (Melbourne's largest department store chain, for those who aren't local) and found a bunch of DC Universe Classics figures. I've never seen them outside of a speciality shop down here.

Nightwing was the only one of the 75th Anniversary wave that I wanted and hadn't already bought elsewhere, so home he came. His bio reads:

After his parents were murdered, young Dick Grayson was adopted by Bruce Wayne, becoming his ward ... and, as Robin, his partner in the war against crime. Years later, Robin struck out on his own as Nightwing and now lives in the corruption ridden city of Bludhaven where by day he serves as a member of that city's police department.

See, that's dedication. At least Batman is a billionaire play-boy when he's not protecting Gotham; Nightwing even fights crime during his off hours.

More Nightwing-related goodness below the cut. )

On the whole, a good figure despite the minor QC problem, just not the most exciting to look at. A 7/10 from me.
To my delight, the new Generations toys have started showing up on Australianshelves. Fingers crossed future waves continue to appear at the same time they're seen in the USA. As it turns out, all the Optimus Primes were gone by the time I got to Toys 'R Us, so I couldn't have bought him even if I'd wanted to. Since Megatron and Starscream are in Wave 2, I picked up Bumblebee instead.

A headshot of Cybertonian Bumblebee.

As you can see, he's pretty cute. This is a representation of 'Bee as he appears in Transformers: War for Cyberton, and the design draws on both his G1 design and the movie version. His bio reads:

Before he was the silent warrior he is today, Bumblebee was a non-stop chatterbox, charged with carrying the most vital Autobot communications. He was a fearless infiltrator of enemy lines who stuck to the shadows and faded into the background despite his bright yellow armor. His spirit was unbreakable and his friendly humor was invaluable during the first dark days of the war.

More photos below the cut. )
Apparently the answer to this eternal question is 'making me buy computer games ... twice.'

Transformers: War for Cyberton was released a few days ago, and the reviews I've seen so far have been positive. Unfortunately, I have a Trypticon-sized dilemma. The game has been released across all platforms overseas, but for some bizarre reason the PC version is not being sold in Australia. Nobody seems to know why. Now, I could import it from a saner country, except that there would be some benefit to getting the Nintendo DS version instead. It's split across two cartridges, but it's available locally and the Deception one contains Cyclonus, one of my favourite characters. On the other hand, the game would be much prettier on my 19-inch PC monitor.

The DS version also lacks online multiplayer, which could be a blessing in disguise as I'm likely to get pwned to a humiliating degree if I ever go near another human player. I don't normally play shooters at all, but for this game I'm willing to make an exception. Really, which Transformers fangirl hasn't fantasized about being a Seeker and shagging Starscream watching Megatron shag Starscream fragging Autobots?

My current plan is to hold out for another week or so to see how the reviews of the DS port are, and if any of my local game shops get a PC copy in. I'll probably end up getting the Decepticon DS version now and waiting for the PC version until it ends up in the bargain bin.

I'm also digging War for Cybertron because it's leading to toys I want to buy appearing on shelves again. I got a few RotF toys, but I've been missing Animated terribly, and from what we've seen already it looks like this could fill the void for me. Soundwave is sex on a stick to the point where I don't mind that he turns into a car thingie instead of a lamp post. I suspect I'll end up getting Bumblebee; he's pretty cute although I'm not the biggest fan of the character usually. I'm not sold on Optimus Prime, though - the alt mode is meh and it's just not right when Prime is Deluxe class. He should not be the same size as 'Bee.

Weirdly, Megatron is the same as well, and it doesn't bother me. But then, I'm not bothered by Classics Galvatron's size class either. They both have enormous guns, and that's what matters. Just ask Starscream.
I think there's a simple reason why these powerful creatures, some of whom are more intelligent than humans, consent to spending their lives fighting on behalf of people who capture them and lock them up: they're idiots. Anyone who's played the game will have quickly realised that wild Pokemon have all the strategic ability of goldfish. Dead goldfish.

The out of universe explanation for this is AI Roulette. When the computer picks moves at random, of course it's going to end up spamming Mud Sport at your Meganium pretty often. In universe, I guess this is what monsters that can call lightning down from the sky and create volcanoes need ten-year-old trainers for. (This is why I don't think that Pokemon is like slavery or cockfighting from an in universe perspective: if my Tyranitar didn't want to live in a ball and fight other critters, presumably it would just bite my head off. I once saw someone describe the bond between Pokemon and trainer it as a interspecies D/s relationship, which sounds about right to me.)

I experienced an amusing example of this tonight when I went down into the Cerulean Cave in SoulSilver for the first time to capture Mewtwo. Who, if you need reminding, is a genetically engineered telepathic supergenius Psychic type. The battle went like this for about fifty turns:

Mewtwo: *uses Amnesia to raise it's Special Defence*

Noctowl: *attempts to use Hypnosis, misses*

Mewtwo: *uses Guard Swap to exchange it's Special Defence bonus with Noctowl's lack of same*

Noctowl: Um, thanks for the stat boost?


Noctowl: *tries Hypnosis again*

Sure, every now and then it would stumble upon Psycho Cut and do some damage, but it's moveset in HG/SS when captured is laughable given the range it has available. Never mind the self-defeating spam, it seems that it learned only one offensive move on the way to level seventy. (Probably the developers did this to make it easier to capture, but that doesn't stop it being funny.)

Since Mewtwo is one of the smartest Pokemon around, this makes it easier to see why Pokemon would consent to being captured - if your entire species in all its many forms is dedicated to beating the shit out of each other anyway, it's good to have someone giving you instructions who knows what the hell they're doing. Not to mention that potions and Pokemon Centres make the whole business easier on trained Pokemon than wild ones.
Based on the reviews, I'm pretty glad I decided not to pick up Obsidian's espionage action RPG Alpha Protocol. It sounds as if it's more shooter than RPG, and I suck at that kind of game. However, even before I saw the reviews I'd already lost interest ... at the exact moment I found out that you had to play a guy. More specifically, you have to play as secret agent Michael Thornton, who is a straight, white American dude because that just seems to be how these things go.

I don't automatically find it objectionable when a game forces me to control a male character, and have spent many entertaining hours ordering Tex Murphy and Phoenix Wright around. However, I am not keen on supposed role-playing games that give you no meaningful control over character creation, and I'm especially not a fan of the fact that these games always seem to have male protagonists. Other genres at least have the occasional Lara Croft to break up the sausage fest. It's not only the gender factor that puts me off RPGs with pre-created protagonists, though. Part of the appeal of the genre for me is making your own character(s), and the more detail about the PC the game fills in the less player choice there is.

This is not a problem for other types of game, because the relationship between player and player character is not constructed in the same way. I don't care that the protagonist comes with his own name, personality and motivations when I'm playing an adventure game or rocking out on an imaginary guitar. But while I've made plenty of RPG characters that were nothing like me in any obvious way, I do need to be able to identify with them on a level that just doesn't matter when I'm telling Guybrush Threepwood to go pick up that rubber chicken.

No RPG yet created gives the player a completely unfettered choice about the kind of character they create. The ones that offer the most freedom - Neverwinter Nights, Drakensang and the Icewind Dale games for example - tend to leave you in charge of interchangeable ciphers with no personality or background except what you imagine. Other games go too far in the opposite direction. The Baldur's Gate series are my favourite computer games of all time, but I've always felt they pushed a bit too much background onto the PC. Even apart from the Bhaalspawn origin that's the substance of the story, there's an underlying assumption that your character is about the same chronological age as your sister Imoen, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you're playing as an elf, a dwarf or a gnome. (Let's not even worry about how someone raised at Candlekeep became a druid or a necromancer.) Also, the sequel assumed that my character would travel with Minsc and Jaheira and that they would care about their sister's kidnapping. This was a sound deduction to make about my paladin, but not so much for my evil assassin.

The game that really nails this balance, IMHO, is Dragon Age. Giving the player six different origin stories to choose from allows a great blend of specificity and freedom. You can be a dwarf noble struggling with the politics of Orzammar, an elf from the ghetto or a human mage raised in the tower, and it all makes an equal amount of sense. There's an underlying assumption that the PC is young and inexperienced, but since you start as a level one character and there are no particularly long-lived races wandering around Ferelden this seems reasonable enough. In all cases, two genders are available. Unfortunately, there's not as much accommodation for characters of colour, since any visible relatives of the PC are white. (I did make both my mage and my Orlesian Grey Warden for Awakening black, since the subject of their parentage does not come up.)

Imperfect or not, though, I think the Dragon Age system is a good way of handling things. It takes more work on the part of developers, but the result is that the player gets a say in their backstory without being locked down to playing one pre-chosen character, and a degree of freedom without controlling a blank slate. That's a much bigger draw for me than playing as some guy called Michael Thornton.
I have a weird history with Pokemon. By the time it came out, I was in my late teens, and my brother and I never had Gameboys growing up anyway. I did watch the first couple of seasons of the anime, though, and I played the CCG for long enough to have a favourite type. Now that I'm a grownup with my on DS, I've become well and truly adicted to SoulSilver. This means that I finally have a Ninetales, and that I'm looking forward to Black & White.

Despite not having played the previous games, I've already formed opinions on the future of the franchise. I would like:

1. For the Pokemon follow ability from HGSS to continue into the next generation. Having your Pokemon walk around with you enhances the fun. Their reactions are adorable, even if it's slightly worrying when my Yanmega or Feraligatr snuggle up to me ...

2. More filtering options for the GTS, especially the ability to search by which Pokemon someone wants instead of by what they're offering. This would cut down on the frustration of going on to look for a Chikorita only to find everyone who's offering one demands a Level 100 Mew in return.

3. More Fire types in general. Everything is better when it's on fire.

4. Type combinations that don't currently exist. I like the idea of a Fire/Grass combo, but anything new would be interesting. Dark/Water, maybe?

5. A couple of new Eevelutions, perhaps Ghost and Steel. Eevee has no trade evolutions at present, so it would be simple to introduce a couple of previously unavailable items and have it evolve that way.

6. Despite the huge number of Pokemon based on animals, there are still a lot of real world critters that are unrepresented in the games or not there at all. We only have Ponyta/Rapidash when it comes to horses, for example. There are no dolphins, and we don't really have a wolf or a tiger. Filling in some of those blanks would keep the designs from getting stale. And on a different note, how about a flying squirrel? Or a turkey? Silly Pokemon are fun, and not everything can be a cool-looking superpowered monster.

7. An evolution for Pachirisu. At the moment it's pretty much Pikachu only less useful. They are very cute, though, so if they evolved into something decent I'd have one for my Electric type in an instant.

8. I'd like evos for Tropius, Corsola, and maybe Torkoal as well. Pre-evolutions for Pinsir and Lapras seem obvious.

9. A Dark type gym. It's past time.

10. No more playing !@#$&ing Voltorb Flip for coins to get Pokemon and TMs not available anywhere else. I just want a Porygon, why do I have to spend hours upon hours playing Minesweeper?

As for what's already been revealed, I'm pleased that Isshu seems to be more urbanized than the other regions, as it makes it stand out. I like the new Pokemon we've seen so far - looking forward to using Zorua if it's not too difficult to acquire. (I suspect the player may be given an egg to hatch, actually.) I'm leaning toward Pokabu as my starter; it looks cute and as we've established that I love Fire types. And it's probably just Mamoswine making me think this, but I wonder if Pokabu's evolutions might be Fire/Ground type? We've seen the combination before in the form of Cammerupt but another one would be fun. A double weakness to Water would be more than worth STAB for Earthquake.
So the line up for DC Universe Classics Wave Fifteen has been revealed. No surprise that Martian Manhunter is finally getting a release, and Golden Pharaoh helps complete the Super Powers homages. (Of no personal interest to me, but it should make a lot of old fans happy.) What I'm exited about, though, is the Jack Knight variant of Starman! I wish the photo showed the back of his jacket, but the figure looks good so far.

Jack was in the fan's choice poll a while ago, so I suppose I should have expected to see him eventually, but it was still a pleasant surprise. Now there's only a few figures I want to see in this line:

Poison Ivy
Sandman (Wesley Dodds)
The Question (Renee Montoya)
Lady Shiva
The Mad Hatter
The Ventriloquist

... listed in order of estimated likelihood that we'll ever get them. Poison Ivy and Huntress are certain to show up eventually, the only thing holding them up is the one female per wave policy. Not sure if we'll ever get a Sandman Mystery Theatre Dodds but weirder things have happened. After that it's pure wishful thinking. The chances we'll see a woman in a suit with a blank mask, an awesome hacker in a wheelchair, or a couple of second-tier Batman villains who'd probably require all-new sculpts are slim. I find it incredibly frustrating that we're more likely to see D-list male characters like Killer Moth and Jemm of Saturn than most of the women on my list.

I'd also like a Lex Luthor in a business suit, which might happen, plus Catwoman and Two-Face in the regular line. Or I could get that box set and have a purple-and-green Luthor I don't really want, and a Superman. And I'm not crazy about the orange and purple outfit for Two-Face, either. I'll have to get a Batman who's not covered in excrement clay sooner or later, though.

I wonder what useless part of some Legion villain I've never heard of I'll get with Jack Knight? Leg? Arm? Thanks to Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, I have both of Atom Smasher's legs, which is more of a DCU collect-and-connect figure than I've ever owned before. I hope to some day have enough bits to build a horrifying Frankenstein's monster.


Out Of The Box

July 2010

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